DBS Bank: HR’s role in a wide-scale transformation

DBS' Chief Data and Transformation Officer Paul Cobban has lead a 10-year change journey across the bank. He says he couldn't have done it without HR.
By: | August 14, 2019

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Throughout the last 10 years, Paul Cobban, DBS Bank’s Chief Data and Transformation Officer Paul Cobban and his team have worked in parallel with DBS’ traditional HR function. With its responsibility for building and maintaining an agile, ready-to-learn, and open-to-new ideas culture across the workforce, Cobban says it has been a vital ally in the transformations that have taken place.

“We’ve been lucky that we’ve had such a great relationship with our HR team on a number of counts,” he said. “Clearly, transformation is about the people – and it surprises me how often people don’t get that. So the HR team has been very progressive in their thinking, and in reinforcing that culture of change throughout the bank.”

“Clearly, transformation is about the people – and it surprises me how often people don’t get that”

Paul Cobban, Chief Data and Transformation Officer, DBS Bank

A key tenet of this has been encouraging the workforce to embrace technology and to use it to improve their own, individual results and performance.

“If you think, for example, about the amount of learning that it takes to take a company from being very analogue – as we were – to taking much greater advantage of the digital world, you’ll see what a gigantic cultural change has been involved,” Cobban says.

“If you take a traditional training approach, you’ll never get there.

“Instead, we’ve worked with our HR counterparts on creating a whole series – literally hundreds – of different experiments aimed at trying to find out how people like to learn and what’s most effective.”

It has been a similarly successful partnership when it comes to recruitment for the bank.

“When I joined, we were 85% outsourced in our technology. We’re now 85% insourced,” Cobban says, noting that this has given the bank much greater ownership over its technology journey.

“If you want to be a digital company, you’ve got to take control of your intellectual property; you need to hire the very best engineers, and if you take the traditional approaches, it’s slow and ineffective.”